The Japanese white pine withstood four centuries of history, including the US atomic bomb, dropped on Hiroshima.
A four-century bonsai that survived the Hiroshima bombing is news around the world, but its keepers would like to focus not on what happened during the war, but on its role in peace.
Planted in a pot 390 years ago, the Japanese white pine belonged to a family that lived about two miles from the site where US forces dropped the atomic bomb 76 years ago, which is now this week.
Five generations of that family cared for the tree until it was delivered to the United States in 1975. And now, as the anniversary of the bombing approaches, the bonsai story is going viral.
But the tree itself was not given away because of Hiroshima, says Kathleen Emerson-Dell, who cares for it at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC It was a gift of friendship and connection; the connection of two cultures.
In fact, the Arboretum was not aware of the connection to Hiroshima until 2001, when two grandchildren of the master of bonsai art, Masaru Yamaki, visited the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, owned by the plantation. The couple wanted to see their grandfather’s tree, as Yamaki had given it to the United States government as an anticipated gift for the country’s bicentennial.
The Arboretum has never hidden that the Japanese white pine survived WWII; however, we weren’t going to shout it out either, says Emerson-Dell.
The Hiroshima bombing was one of two atomic attacks that ended World War II, taking the lives of some 140,000 people and devastating the city. Yet impeccably crafted Yamaki trees, like this white pine, were protected in a walled greenhouse.
The bonsai, about 60 centimeters tall, has a sturdy trunk, short, strong green, and yellow needles, and wires prevent its branches from rising towards the sun. Wrinkles, grime, kinks; all of that gives it personality, says Emerson-Dell. It’s like Katherine Hepburn; beautifies over the years.
Your caregiver hopes the public will learn to appreciate the tree as a celebration of survival. “There is a special connection with a living being that has survived a long time on Earth, going through who knows how many things,” he adds. “When I am in his presence, I remember that he was also in the presence of people who lived long ago.”